copping_flacMusic stored on computers, smart phones and digital portables has always copped a bad rap from audiophiles and the simple reason for that is that it sounds crook. That’s because the software has removed up to 90 per cent of the data carried in the original recording.

This happens because when people first started storing music electronically the memory capacity of portable music players was tiny, so engineers came up with music compression programs that essentially removed everything they figured wasn’t important or that you wouldn’t hear anyway. The result was much smaller files and music that completely lacked any excitement or depth.

Even with such tight compression some of those early players could only store 20 minutes of music. These days you can buy a drive big enough to store a couple of thousand CDs at full quality for less than $100.

American brand Olive was first to see the potential of this and now has three models that store your CDs to a hard drive while they’re playing, as well as giving you all the convenience of an iPod. You can locate tracks by artist, title or genre; you get cover art and track information, and the bonus is that it’s all at full CD sound quality.

Mind you, the prices start at $1299 and go up to $6499.

Now the mainstream brands are getting into the technology. Yamaha has just unveiled its CDN500 network CD player that as well as playing CDs also handles electronic music files from a computer or an external hard drive. It’s less flexible than the Olives but at $799 it’s a lot cheaper.

The Yamaha doesn’t have an internal hard drive and won’t record existing CDs to an external one, it’s a purely a player. Thus you need to record CDs to a drive using your computer. The format of choice among the musical purists seems to be FLAC 192-kHz/24-bit, but the player also operates Apple lossless.

Now connect the computer to the Yamaha with a network cable and it will decode the music and send it to your stereo (through conventional RCA cables or optical or coaxial digital) at full quality. If the music is on an external drive it can be connected to the CD player through a USB cable.

The Yamaha will interact with an iPhone/iPad/iPod or android wirelessly, playing the music that’s been downloaded to that too. And by using an app your smart phone can be used to operate the CD player and browse stored music. You can also use it to look through the options on internet radio.

The CDN500 has all the audiophile credentials including a Burr Brown 32-bit/192-kHz digital to analogue converter and a pure direct mode.

Yamaha says there is now strong and growing demand for genuine hi fi equipment that can handle high quality electronic storage formats for music. People like the convenience of MP3 players, but clearly they also want CD sound quality.

These days they can have both.

Published January 2013